I’m bad at consistency. It’s not that I don’t have many charming, delightful traits. But consistency requires a lot. Particularly when, I’ve noticed, it involves grandiose plans. I remember when I was 12. I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and promptly went out to buy a The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, because Francis read a page of Shakespeare everyday and she was a writer, so I should do that too if I wanted to be a writer. I know, I was a weird child. Anyhow, that lasted about a month. And then it just…petered out I suppose.
This happens with novenas as well. I’m the best at the four day novena. I’m also really good at forgetting my Lent intentions. And dedicating myself to Mary after 10 days. And actually forgetting it is Advent when I get swamped with essays and finals. I go in every time with the best of intentions, only to find I’m still exceedingly human, and my human-ness comes with the need for a lot more grace if I’m going to be a saint, and a lot more cooperation with that grace.
This Advent, I intended to do what I hadn’t been able to do in years: actually finish the St. Francis de Sales devotional for Advent I had found my freshman year of college. I would wake up at five am, read it, and start my day with prayer. And then five am became six am. And then papers came in, and six am became lunch. And then editing the finals I wrote happened, and then lunch became after class. And then it was other projects I needed to finish, and ten pm became one am.
Eventually I was so exhausted it was a matter of simply putting one foot in front of the other one, and I forgot it was Advent until I arrived at mass and would feel the guilt sweep over me as I looked at the dripping candles. I hadn’t even found purple candles after a failed attempt at CVS. In my head, I hear the fear redouble: I must be the worst Catholic ever. Not even one hour with Christ.
The thing is, that’s also a lie. I’m not a saint yet, that is for darn sure. But I’m not the worst Catholic ever. I’m simply not as dramatic as all that. However, God is good and gave us saints to remind us of the truth of things. One of my favorites, St. Josemaria Escriva wrote:
Spiritual life is — and I repeat this again and again, on purpose — a constant beginning and beginning again.
—Beginning again? Yes! Every time you make an act of contrition — and we should make many every day — you begin again, because you offer a new love to God.
So, say your Advent, like mine, has sucked until now. What can you do to begin again in these last few days? How can Catholics celebrate Advent, when it’s almost over?
1. Find Christ.
In Advent, we anticipate the coming of Christ, right? One of the best ways to do that is to actively seek Him out, through the Sacraments and in particular, through the Eucharist, where He is really present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
You can go to daily mass and receive communion, or make a spiritual communion, or you can check in for just five minutes during adoration. Don’t have adoration near you? You can still stop by your parish, as Christ is present in the Tabernacle (the box normally behind the altar) even when we don’t bring out the Host for Eucharistic Adoration.
You could get married or take Holy Orders, and if you are, congrats! But for those of us for whom planning a wedding/ordination isn’t going to happen in the next four days or so, maybe opt for a more practical sacrament, like Penance. Haven’t been in a while? What a better way to prepare for Christ than getting rid of the sins that are building a wall between yourself and Him. Haven’t been a REALLY long while? The Diocese of Dallas, among other places like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops can help you get started.
2. Check in with Mary.
Remember the whole “no room at the Inn” thing? Make sure you are making room for her in your heart, because she always brings Christ with her. Making room and time for Mary is making room and time for Jesus. Now, maybe you kinda think the Mary devotion thing is a little weird. I know I did when I converted. And then I read a few books on her, and realized, hey, Mary is pretty darn cool.
I’d recommend you check out Fulton Sheen’s The World’s First Love or Caryll Houselander’s The Reed of God as really readable, very good beginnings. Because learning about Mary is a way to prepare for Christmas. (Pro-tip: get to know her spouse, St. Joseph, too! You can start here, where Fr. Benedict Groeschel recommends The Mystery of Joseph).
3. Perform a corporal work of mercy and feed the hungry.Pope Francis liked the movie Babette’s Feast so much he quoted it in Amoris laetitia. And without dragging in controversy, a movie about how good food can create community is an excellent message for the Advent and Christmas season. Remember when Jesus fed the 5000? They tried to make Him king!
Food brings people together, creates bonds, and feasts go far beyond feeding our physical hunger. You can do this for your family and friends, or go out of your way and see if there is a local pantry, homeless, or women’s shelter that could use volunteers. Not a four-star chef? Don’t worry—make some cookies instead, or pick some hot chocolate up to share. It’s not about how fancy it is, it’s about having an excuse to find (and feed) Christ in His members.
At the family Christmas party, read the Birth of Jesus with the kids in your family. Even if they’ve heard it before, even already at mass, it is still a great tradition to encourage your family in their faith. Siblings, kids, nieces, nephews, cousins, grandkids, or children of family friends need models and support in their faith, and what better way to do that that to tell one of the most popular Scripture stories of all time.
My cousins and I used to go all out as kids, acting out the whole Christmas story in bathrobes and costume jewelry, with the youngest, or a doll, playing Christ. Bonus points if you follow our lead, or if you use the Nativity set to make an impromptu puppet show.
5. Don’t flip off the jerk who cut you off.
Pray for their impatient soul—-or just pray for them? Offer up the inconvenience of holiday drivers for the many things in the world that truly need it. If you can’t think of something to unite with Christ for, here are some suggestions: increases in priestly and religious vocations, the holiness of Church in her members, those without food, shelter, or love, or the Christians in parts of the world where going to church can be a death sentence, or even the intentions of our Holy Father and the souls in Purgatory. It’s a small way to practice even deeper union with Christ in your life during Advent; one which my last minute shopping habits always ensure that I get to have.
You know that idea about helping others in their faith? Jesus didn’t just assume a human nature and become man so that we would have a nice bedtime story to tell. He did it for you and me. As St. Athanasius taught in his wonderful work On the Incarnation of the Word:
For this cause [the Word] was both born and appeared as Man, and died, and rose again, dulling and casting into the shade the works of all former men by His own, that in whatever direction the bias of men might be, from thence He might recall them, and teach them of His own true Father, as He Himself says: “I came to save and to find that which was lost.”
It’s not just for kids; salvation and redemption is for all of us. So check out how it started, when the unimaginable Love of God prompted Him to send His Son to be expiation for our sins. Or, as the older formulation declares, God became Man so that men might become gods. And then, maybe thank Him for it.
Just because you failed doesn’t mean you run out of tries. Make the next minute better. Thank God now if you haven’t recently. Anticipate his arrival with wonder and holiness now, even if your Advent hasn’t been anything anticipatory yet. The wonderful thing is that you always have another choice, another moment, the option to be a bit more of the saint God calls you to be today.
God meets us where we are when we reach out to Him, in order to give us the grace we need to continue on in our spiritual life once more. He does this for the same reason He became Man: He loves us more than we can ever imagine.
That is the point of the Christmas story. The Word of God became Flesh, taking on the likeness of a slave, to dwell among us and bringing us the joyful news: we do not have to be trapped by our sins and eternally separated from the love of God. God loves us and comes to make saints of us now, today, in all the little ways He can, so that we might unite with Him forever—after all, in Him is life, and life abundantly.
Photo credit to Jens Johnsson via pexels.com.